Tschaikowsky: Trio in la minore op. 50

Il Trio op. 50 in la minore per pianoforte, violino e violoncello di Tschaikowsky è una di quelle composizioni il cui valore appare decisamente molto superiore al giudizio critico che ne viene comunemente dato. Molti storici della musica lo liquidano in maniera sbrigativa come noioso e superficiale nello stile. Non è escluso che questi giudizi siano stati influenzati dalla recensione pesantemente negativa datane da Eduard Hanslick in occasione delle prima esecuzione viennese e riportata nel volume Am Ende des Jahrhunderts pubblicato a Berlino nel 1899, nella quale il celebre critico scrisse che le le facce degli ascoltatori sembravano esprimere la speranza che il brano finisse al più presto e che il Trio apparteneva a quella categoria di composizioni che si uccidono da sole a causa della loro insopportabile lunghezza. Del resto, Hanslick non doveva amare molto la musica di Tschaikowsky se pensiamo alla sua celebre stroncatura del Concerto per violino op. 35, da lui giudicato con la definizione  „bringt uns zum erstenmal auf die schauerliche Idee, ob es nicht auch Musikstücke geben könne, die man stinken hört“.

Personalmente, non sono mai stato d’ accordo con questi giudizi negativi e trovo che il Trio op. 50 sia un lavoro di fattura molto pregevole per il fascino e il fervido lirismo delle idee melodiche, la sapienza di certe soluzioni armoniche, le novità della struttura formale e una tecnica compositiva molto rifinita e di notevole maturità. Questo nonostante il compositore russo non amasse molto questo tipo di combinazione strumentale, come risulta da una lettera indirizzata alla sua amica e sostenitrice Nadezhda von Meck.

Il brano fu scritto in Italia, tra il mese di dicembre del 1881 e il gennaio 1882 durante il soggiorno dell’ autore a Roma ed è dedicato a Nikolai Rubinstein, il celebre pianista e compositore defunto pochi mesi prima e che a Tschaikowsky era legato da vivi sentimenti di amicizia, anche se aveva giudicato negativamente la partitura del Concerto N° 1 op. 23 per piano e orchestra. L’ episodio comunque non incrinò i rapporti fra i due artisti e Rubinstein diresse, tra le altre cose, la prima esecuzione assoluta dell’ opera Eugene Onegin al Maly-Theatre di Mosca nel 1879. Tschaikowsky gli dedicò il Trio op. 50 con le parole « À la mémoire d’un grand artiste ». Il brano, dopo alcune esecuzioni private, venne presentato per la prima volta in pubblico a Mosca il 30 ottobre 1882 da Sergej Taneyev, celebre pianista che fu uno dei migliori allievi di Nikolai Rubinstein.

Dal punto di vista formale, il brano è strutturato in una insolita forma bipartita, con un primo movimento in la minore e tempo Moderato assai – Allegro giusto, seguito da una seconda parte in forma di Tema con undici Variazioni seguite da una Coda che inizia con un Allegretto risoluto e con fuoco e poi, tramite una ingegnosa modulazione, trapassa in un Andante con moto – Lugubre che chiude il pezzo nella tonalità di la minore con cui era iniziato. Il tema di questo secondo movimento cita abbastanza chiaramente un tema del Secondo Concerto per pianoforte op. 44, anch’ esso dedicato a Nikolai Rubinstein che non potè eseguirlo a causa della sua morte improvvisa.

Come contributo critico, aggiungo questa esaustiva presentazione scritta da Joseph Way, direttore artistico della Sierra Chamber Society di Walnut Creek in California.

The A minor Piano Trio was written as a memorial tribute to Nicholas Rubenstein, Director of the Moscow Conservatory, (brother of the pianist and composer Anton Rubenstein). Rubenstein had served as mentor, critic and supporter to Tchaikovsky; had seen to it that Tchaikovsky’ s works got the best possible performances. However, they did not always agree on matters musical. In a letter to his Patroness Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky described the reaction of Rubenstein when he played the famous B flat Minor Piano Concerto for him. ” I played the first movement. Never a word, never a single remark. Do you know the awkward and ridiculous sensation of putting before a friend a meal which you have cooked yourself, which he eats – and [then] holds his tongue? Oh for a single word, for friendly abuse, for anything to break the silence! For God’s sake say something ! But Rubenstein never opened his lips. He was preparing his thunderbolt, and Hubert (an onlooker) was waiting to see which way the wind would blow. Rubenstein’s silence was eloquent. ‘My dear friend,’ he seemed to be saying to himself, ‘how can I speak of the details when the work goes entirely against the grain?’ I gathered patience and played the concerto straight through to the end. Still silence.
‘Well?’ I asked, and rose from the piano. Then a torrent broke from Rubenstein’ s lips. Gentle at first, gathering volume as it proceeded.’ And finally bursting into the fury of a Jupiter. My concerto was worthless, absolutely unplayable; the passages so broken, so disconnected, so unskillfully written, that they could not even be improved; the work itself was bad, trivial, common; here and there I had stolen from other people; only one or two pages were worth anything at all; all the rest had better be destroyed. I left the room without a word. Presently Rubenstein came to me and seeing how upset I was, repeated that my concerto was impossible (but) said if I would suit it to his requirements he would bring it out at his concert. ‘I shall not alter a single note.’ I replied.” Despite the fact that Tchaikovsky had one described Rubenstein as a “heartless, dried-up pianist”, he was so devastated by Rubenstein’ s death in March of 1881, as well as the illness of his sister, that he ceased work altogether until December of that same year. (As a result of Rubenstein’ s death, Tchaikovsky was offered the position of Director of the Moscow Conservatory, which he declined.) He then began work on the piano trio – an instrumental combination he had heretofore felt antipathy toward. He had once written to von Meck, who was urging to write a piano trio, that it was torture to him to have to listen to the combination of piano with violin and cello. The Trio bears the dedication “to the memory of a great artist”. Given Rubenstein’ s reaction to the piano concerto, I would suggest that the fact that old Nick was dead, and couldn’ t hear the work dedicated to him, might have spared the sensitive Peter Ilyich another savaging.
The Piano trio is a large-scale work in two sections. The first movement, in sonata form, is marked “Pezzo elegiaco” – elegaic piece. And that it is: melancholy, yet warm and passionate, filled with Tchaikovsky’s broad and lovely melodies. A less charitable view of the work is taken by Alfred Einstein in Music in the Romantic Era (1947) in which he characterizes the work as ” a classic example of his (Tchaikovsky’s) boundless emotionalism”. Describing the composer as “a neurotic, yielding unreservedly to his lyric, melancholy, and emotional ebullitions, he marked most distinctly a last phase of Romanticism – exhibitionism of feeling.” Einstein (that’ s ALFRED, not ALBERT) viewed the work as “a veritable orgy of sequences and naked feelings”.
The second part of the work consists of a set of variations followed by a finale and coda. The simple folk-like theme for the variations is said to have been inspired by the memories of a happy day in the country, where Tchaikovsky and Rubenstein were entertained by peasants singing and playing for them. There are eleven variations of the theme, which is introduced by the piano. Here are some “landmarks”to let you know where you are. In the first variation the violin presents the theme, followed by (what else) variation two, where the cello sings the theme as the violin provides a countermelody. If you hear what sounds to be a “scherzo” by the piano punctuated by pizz’es from the strings you’re in the third variation. If it’ s the theme played in the minor mode, you’ re in the fourth variation. If you think you hear what sounds like a music box – piano in the upper register, with strings providing a drone, you’ re in the fifth variation. After an intro of repeated notes by the cello, the group breaks into an elegant waltz –said to be evocation of Tchaikovsky’ s opera Eugene Onegin. Don’ t be fooled, this sixth variation is a long one. If you hear the piano belting out chords, punctuated by the strings, you’re in the seventh variation. It’ s a short one, and we’ re coming down the home stretch. If you hear a lot of contrapuntal stuff, canons and the like, you’ re in the eighth variation – this from a composer who had no love for Bach and Handel. If it’ s a lively mazurka you hear, why you’re in the tenth variation. One more to go. Almost. If you hear the cello plunking out a bass line to repeated notes on the piano, and a gradual dying away of the theme you’ re in the eleventh variation. If you hear applause, the piece is over.
The finale actually starts out with yet another variation of the theme; festive and jubilant and developed at length. This manic mood eventually, but abruptly changes, as if the composer, lost in pleasant memories, is suddenly brought back to his pain at the loss of his friend. The melancholy opening theme of the first movement returns, orchestral and engulfing in its force. This gives way to a solemn funeral march, whose characteristic dum – dum – dee – dum rhythm is given to the piano, while the first movement theme given to the strings, itself dies away.
After he completed the work, Tchaikovsky had it played for some friends, as a result of which he made some revisions in the score. Still a very demanding work, requiring nothing less that virtuosity from all the players, it was first privately performed in Moscow on Mar. 2, 1882, with Sergei Taneyev (a composer and teacher of some note) at the piano. The violin was played by N. Grimaldi; the cello by Wilhelm Fitzhagen. The first public performance took place in Moscow on Oct.30, 1882.

L’ esecuzione che propongo è una registrazione effettuata al Verbier Festival 2009, che documenta uno splendido incontro cameristico fra tre grandi personalità del concertismo odierno: Evgenj Kissin, Joshua Bell e Mischa Maisky.



Piotr Ilic Tschaikowsky (1840 – 1893)

Trio in la minore op. 50 per pianoforte, violino e violoncello

I. Pezzo elegiaco (Moderato assai – Allegro giusto)

II. Tema con variazioni: Andante con moto

Var I –
Var II: Più mosso –
Var III: Allegro moderato –
Var IV: L’istesso tempo (Allegro moderato) –
Var V: L’istesso tempo –
Var VI: Tempo di Valse –
Var VII: Allegro Moderato –
Var VIII: Fuga (Allegro moderato) –
Var IX: Andante flebile, ma non tanto –
Var X: Tempo di mazurka –
Var XI: Moderato –

Finale e coda: Allegretto risoluto e con fuoco -[Coda] Andante con moto – Lugubre

Evgenj Kissin, pf.

Joshua Bell, violino

Mischa Maisky, violoncello


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